The supernatural has become extraordinarily popular in literature, television, and film. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches, and wizard have become staples of entertainment industries, and many of these figures have received extensive critical attention. But one figure has remained in the shadows - the female ghost. Inherently liminal, often literally invisible, the female ghost has nevertheless appeared in all genres. Subversive Spirits: The Female Ghost in British and American Popular Culture brings this figure into the light, exploring her cultural significance in a variety of media from 1926 to 2014. Robin Roberts argues that the female ghost is well worth studying for what she can tell us about feminine subjectivity in cultural contexts.
Subversive Spirits examines appearances of the female ghost in heritage sites, theater, Hollywood film, literature, and television in the United States and the United Kingdom. What holds these disparate female ghosts together is their uncanny ability to disrupt, illuminate, and challenge gendered assumptions. As with other supernatural figures, the female ghost changes over time, especially responding to changes in gender roles.
Roberts's analysis begins with comedic female ghosts in literature and film and moves into horror by examining the successful play The Woman in Black and the legend of the weeping woman, La Llorona. Roberts then situates the canonical works of Maxine Hong Kingston and Toni Morrison in the tradition of the female ghost to explore how the ghost is used to portray the struggle and pain of women of color. Roberts further analyzes heritage sites that use the female ghost as the friendly and inviting narrator for tourists. The book concludes with a comparison of the British and American versions of the television hit Being Human, where the female ghost expands her influence to become a mother and savior to all humanity.
Robin Roberts, New Orleans, Louisiana, is professor of English and gender studies at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She is author of five books on gender and popular culture, including Anne McCaffrey: A Life with Dragons and Ladies First: Women in Music Videos, both published by University Press of Mississippi.